A version of this profile was first published in the Blues v Brumbies match programme.
Rai Valley, population 100, is a small locality, halfway between Nelson and Blenheim at the top end of the South Island. The township boasts a café, pub, rural shop and a trucking company. There once was a cheese factory, but that burned down more than a decade ago.
These are the humble roots of Sam Prattley, or Prattaz as he’s known on the team. Sam is now a 35-cap Blues prop who has earned a spot in the starting XV and has a reputation for hard work, consistency and focus on the team. But, according to Sam, this work ethic wasn’t always present.
“I was quite a lazy kid, I’d come home from school and watch a lot of TV,” he recalls. “It wasn’t until I moved to Nelson College at the start of high school that I started to expand myself.”
He’d been playing rugby since the age of five, following in the footsteps of his father and uncle by representing Pelorus Rugby Club. Sam’s always played prop, describing himself as “a big boy” from a young age.
He developed a love for the scrum early on in rugby.
“It’s my chance to get in and make a difference,” said Sam. “I’ve never been a leader as such, more of a worker, so if there’s a job in front of me, I like getting in and getting it done.”
He moved to Nelson College for high school and Sam’s talent was soon recognised, earning him a spot in representative teams. He was picked up by the Crusaders a few years out of high school and pulled in to their Wider Training Group for two years, before providing injury cover for the Highlanders during their 2013 pre-season.
It was during these early years of Super Rugby that Sam discovered what it takes to play rugby professionally.
“I had to learn and get up to scratch with how everything runs, especially with gym work and training,” he recalls. There was a whole lot of running, wrestling, even Brazilian jujitsu – all designed to improve the player’s skill level and fitness.
Then came the big break. In 2013, Sam was called in to the Blues to provide injury cover when Charlie Faumuina tore his calf. He was handed an interim contract, supplementing his new contract with Auckland Rugby.
By 2014, Sam had made the full squad with the Blues and he was settling in to Auckland life with his partner and fellow Rai Valley local Carlie.
“I was pretty busy when we first came up, with club rugby, ITM and then the Blues, but we settled in pretty well,” he said. “The biggest difference was just the traffic.”
Understandable – Rai Valley has no traffic lights, roundabouts and only one giveway sign!
At the end of 2015, Carlie and Sam welcome baby Jeorgie into the world and are expecting another. This year has also been a significant turning point for Sam’s rugby – since round six, against the Jaguares, Sam has started every game for the Blues, bar one due to a rolled ankle.
Sam credits it to a step up in his rehab programme. He’s been coming in early each morning to stretch and get the body ready for training. He’s also focussed a lot more on his mindset, using techniques learned from Mental Skills Coach Kylie Wilson.
“This season has been one of my best years of rugby, I’ve had consistent starts and consistent game time,” he said. “And team wise, I can see that we’re building.”